T levels risk repeating past mistakes, says report

Too many elements of the reforms are likely to cut T levels adrift from the rest of the 16-19 system, claims author

t levels damian hinds government vocational apprenticeships

The lack of clarity over the purpose and role of T levels is blurring the lines between them and other qualifications, according to a new report.

Entitled A Qualified Success: An investigation into T levels and the wider vocational system and published by thinktank Policy Exchange today, the report warns that the education sector and the government must learn from the mistakes of the past if T levels are to be successful.

Author and senior research fellow Tom Richmond says T levels, which will be taught from 2020 onward and are intended to be an alternative to the more academic A levels, could fall into the same traps as previous technical qualifications, including GNVQs in the 1990s and diplomas in the 2000s.  


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According to the report, the timetable for introducing T levels is “too brisk”, leaving insufficient time for any delays or alterations to the existing plans.

There is also a lack of visibility with employers and parents largely unaware of the new qualifications, it adds, as well as a risk of insufficient clarity on the purpose of the new qualifications and links to other educational pathways.

The report highlights the 2016 Sainsbury Review and its criticism of diplomas for not viewing the two routes for technical education – classroom and workplace – as being “two sides of the same coin”; the same problem seems to have emerged with T levels. it argues. 

Due to the lack of clarity, the lines between T levels and other qualifications are inevitably blurred, the report adds.

'Cementing social division'

Mr Richmond said T levels had the potential to make a valuable contribution to the education system, “but this will only be realised if they are conceived, designed and delivered in the wider context of building a high-quality and sustainable technical education route”. 

He added: “One of the biggest mistakes made by diplomas and GNVQs was that it was never clear how they were supposed to fit with, and operate alongside, other qualifications and programmes.

"Too many elements of the T-level reforms are likely to cut T levels adrift from the rest of the 16-19 system. The end result of this will be that T levels are left vulnerable to any changes in educational or political winds.”

In her foreword to the report, former Labour education secretary Ruth Kelly said the UK’s post-16 education structure “cements social division”.

“The choices that are forced on those who have just taken their GCSEs arguably have an even greater impact on their lives than the old divide between those who went to grammar schools and their peers who went on to secondary moderns," she writes.

"Lives and prospects are changed in an instant, predetermined by a flawed and a prevailing intellectual snobbery that, sadly, has treated technical education as something for ‘other people’s children’.

“The challenge now, particularly as we leave the European Union and are less likely to be able to rely on skilled workers from abroad, is to make sure that the skills agenda is properly valued here in the UK. Apprenticeships are beginning to become established, but there are clearly teething problems, including with the apprenticeship levy. It is also not yet fully clear how T levels will work alongside apprenticeships.”

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